Teen spirit on the line

18 November 2022

Teenagers ask big questions in Samara Hersch’s powerful interactive work. Claire Trolio enjoys the intergenerational conversations.

Body of Knowledge, Samara Hersch & Company · 
PICA Performance Space, 17 November 2022 ·

I find teenagers pretty inspiring. They’re always achieving something, or learning something, or standing up for something. There’s a sense of progress, of flux and momentum when teenagers are involved. Maybe it’s because they have all the time in the world. 

Sometimes, though, that sense of infinite possibility can be overwhelming. How can you achieve enough in your life to make an impact when you’re gone? Does the fact that your life could end tomorrow scare you? How do you choose what to do with the time you have? 

These were a few of the questions I was asked in Body of Knowledge, an interactive and intimate performance where teenagers, at home in their bedrooms, speak to audience members in the theatre space through mobile phones. 

Devised by artist Samara Hersch and presented by PICA, Perth Festival and WA Youth Theatre Company, Body of Knowledge invites a dozen or so participants into a dimly lit room, equipped with only a supplied mobile. As each phone rings, the audience retreats, one by one, into conversation. 

A man with short-cropped white hair and a dark beard, sits facing the camera, a mobile phone to his ear. He is surrounded by other people, one of whom is also talking into a mobile phone. They are part of the audience for the interactive Body of Knowledge.
Teens call audience members on their mobiles to spark conversations in the intimate ‘Body of Knowledge’. Photo: Robert Catto

When my phone rang, I was quickly chatting with a sweet and earnest kid asking about sex education. Being the second person to answer, it felt like I was hosting a late night, talkback radio segment (though more Pump up the Volume than Sleepless in Seattle) but soon all of us were on a call, rearranging the furniture and losing ourselves in chitchat. 

Over 90 minutes, I received three calls from advice-seeking teenagers, asking big questions; between myself and other participants, the topics covered love, sex, death, career, happiness, trust, friendship and motivation. Among the dialogue was the occasional direction or suggestion to perform small tasks to make the theatre a comfortable place to inhabit, both personally and for the others in the room. Things that facilitate, in one way or another, connection. 

Body of Knowledge is not about older generations imparting age-earned wisdom onto Generation Z. The work is crafted in a way that allows the student to become the teacher. Honest dialogue and intimate conversation give the audience space to consider their own lives through reflection and communication. 

Being tech heavy, the success of Body of Knowledge hinges on the flawless work of creative technology designer Fred Rodrigues and creative technologist Tilman Robinson. They deliver. So, too, does set designer Belle Santos, whose dark room is full of surprises. The integration of all moving parts was seamless. Stage direction, audio, technology… even snacks. 

A group of women sit in a semi-circle, the blonde woman in the centre holding a phone to her ear, smiling. The women either side of her are also smiling or laughing. They are part of the audience for the interactive Body of Knowledge.
The interactive work hangs on audience participation. Photo: Robert Catto

The disembodiment of the callers asks us to question how we interact with people of different generations within society. It elevates the beneficial, symbiotic relationship of intergenerational communication. It throws up questions of taboos and trust. 

Body of Knowledge is, by its nature, subjective but there’s great beauty in the shared experience among participants. The show culminates with a unity, between both the teenagers and audience members, that’s tender and supportive. Comfortable. Safe. 

There are limitations with this kind of work. While the teenagers, Hersch and the rest of the team are in control – and doing a wonderful job of it – a lot relies on the individual participant and how much they’re willing to engage. I urge you to nab one of the few remaining tickets, but do so with an open heart and a readiness to connect. 

Body of Knowledge is at PICA Performance Space until 19 November 2022.

Pictured top: ‘Body of Knowledge’ puts teenagers in the driver’s seat. Photo supplied

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

Past Articles

  • Gentle touch guides lunar landing 

    Balancing weight with whimsy, this children’s theatre work strikes the right chord for its target audience, writes Claire Trolio.

  • Next-gen theatre makers impress

    From the fresh and funny to the weird and wonderful, WAAPA’s Performance Making students bring fresh, incisive work at full tilt, writes Claire Trolio.

Read Next

  • Just what the doctor ordered

    Just what the doctor ordered

    29 September 2023

    Dr AudiYO uses vocal gymnastics to take the audience on a fun adventure. Junior reviewers Jackson and Chloe Davis are happy to take this prescription. 

    Reading time • 3 minutesTheatre
  • Seadragon weaves magic spell

    Seadragon weaves magic spell

    28 September 2023

    The Magical Weedy Seadragon enchants junior reviewer Isabel Greentree with a winning blend of story, song and humour.   

    Reading time • 4 minutesMulti-arts
  • Lifting the weight of the world

    Lifting the weight of the world

    28 September 2023

    Junior reviewers Jackson and Chloe Davis are taken on a thoughtful and funny journey to the Moon with one overwhelmed girl.

    Reading time • 4 minutesTheatre

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio


Cleaver Street Studio